Google Coming Out of the Dark? Android 4 and iOS 6 Passing Search Referral Data

iOS and Android Search Data - Superman and Batman High Five

Starting on Tuesday 7/30, our clients have experienced double digit growth in organic traffic. This sudden shift has happened in sites across different industries and verticals. Diving into the reasons for the organic lift, we noticed that the Dark Google problem plaguing mobile, in which Android 4+ and iOS 6+ were misattributing traffic from search into the direct bucket, was no longer occurring.


If this holds, it means that search marketers and online businesses will regain what was once lost: the ability to accurately measure the percentage of traffic coming to their site from search.


Beginning on 7/30, organic search traffic from iOS 6 hockey-sticked:

iOS 6 Search Traffic Recovery

Android 4+ search traffic also increased, but the increase was nowhere near as stark as iOS:

Android 4.1.3 Google Search Traffic Recovery

This may be because only certain versions of Android are passing referrer data. We’ve done testing and can confirm that iOS 6+ referrer data is being passed along as search traffic, as well as Android 4.1.3.

This has led to an overall lift in organic visits, typically on the order of 15-25% for the sites we analyzed:

Organic Search Visits Traffic Recovery

If organic search was increasing, it stood to reason that direct traffic would be decreasing. Week over week, we saw a decrease in direct traffic as well, in the range of 10 – 25%:

Direct Traffic Decline from iOS 6 and Android Search Recovery


Now, we’re not completely out of the dark. Although search referral data is sent through, all keywords we tested were coming in as (not provided). And when we tested search referral data from the iPad using iOS 6+, it for some reason wasn’t passing along data. So we’re not in a bright sunshiney field just yet, but there’s finally some light at the end of this tunnel.




About the Author

Shahzad is VP of Digital Media at Define Media Group. Through his expertise in search marketing, social media and web analytics, Shahzad helps Define clients increase traffic, engagement, conversions and revenue.


  1. Jack Wallington
    Posted on August 7, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    When did it start? Has this always been the case?

  2. Vincent
    Posted on August 7, 2013 at 2:03 AM

    I can see the change in Google Analytics but not in Omniture.. weird.

  3. free psn codes no surveys or downloads Says :
    Posted on August 6, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s
    new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  4. Jesse DaCosta Says :
    Posted on August 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    I’ve done a lot of reading up on this topic, here and elsewhere, and the thing I haven’t seen anyone address is revenue for those businesses that have E-commerce tracking. Everything I have seen has addressed traffic and correctly trying to attribute that but what about the more important issue of $$$$? Obviously, if both Android 4+ and iOS 6+ were misattributing visits from organic search into the direct bucket, they were also misattributing the revenue from those visits…what to do about that? That’s not simple because of course you don’t know which of those misattributed revenue in the process, so you are left to guess and estimate. We had to look at historical revenue distribution %’s between organic and direct and interestingly enough, while the visits distribution clearly seem to be going back to normal, revenue has not…

  5. Dan Fabulich
    Posted on August 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    I’m really confused. This Search Engine Land article links here http://searchengineland.com/rejoice-safari-is-once-again-providing-google-referral-information-in-ios-168493 but claims that Apple is only permitting referrers in iOS 7 beta; he claims to have tested it himself on an iPad running iOS6.

    How is it even possible that iOS6 browsers could start passing referrers all of a sudden on July 30th? It had to be a change on Google’s side, right? But how could Google have affected iOS6 devices without modifying the Safari browser?!

  6. Anthony
    Posted on August 2, 2013 at 6:33 AM

    I’m seeing the exact same thing – direct traffic going down, iOS and Android going up, all while overall traffic remains the same.

    Thanks for pointing this out!

  7. DirectAsia.com Says :
    Posted on August 1, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Thanks for this. It holds out hope for the future! I don’t see any bump in organic as of yet, nor a drop in direct, but would be a very happy man indeed should this happen. Being able to attribute traffic is so fundamental, and things at present are broken in multiple ways.

    thanks for sharing the data …..

  8. Michael Griffin Says :
    Posted on August 1, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Wooohoo! I never thought I’d be happy to get (not provided) back but at least it’s better than the “direct” obfuscation.
    Off to check my traffic sources!

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